Indiana's third-graders are gearing up for a new state reading test that could determine whether they can move on to the fourth grade.
The test, which students will take in March, is the result of a 2010 law that requires the evaluation of third-grade students' reading skills. Students who fail will be given remediation and the opportunity to retake the test over the summer.
Students who fail the Indiana Reading Evaluation And Determination assessment — or I-READ3 test — a second time cannot move on to fourth-grade reading instruction.
The Herald-Times reported Monday that because a student failing the test twice would also be required to be coded as a third-grader and to take the IREAD-3 and ISTEP-Plus test again the following year, most schools would find it difficult to move a child on to the fourth grade in every subject but reading.
Cameron Rains, the director of elementary education for the Monroe County Community School Corp., said that district officials' "hands are pretty much tied."
He said the district recently launched its own reading initiative for elementary students, in part to address the fact that about 30 percent of the district's students in grades K-6 were not reading at grade level.
Rains said although he agrees with the state's goal of making sure children are reading at grade level, he's concerned with the idea of what he calls a "student punitive measure for an adult issue."
"It's the highest-stake tests any of our kids have ever faced, and they are doing so in the third grade," Rains said. "That's why we spent so much time and effort making sure kids are prepared."
Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample acknowledged that although the law only requires that the student be retained in third-grade reading, moving that student forward in other subjects will prove difficult.
"What the law specifically says is that kids who don't pass have to take the ISTEP again and can't move on to fourth-grade reading instruction," she said. "Functionally, that means for most classrooms the student will be (held back). But it is still a local determination."
Sample said the idea behind IREAD-3 came about through a state and national push to focus more on reading instruction.
State education officials say research indicates that students from kindergarten to grade three are primarily "learning to read," but in fourth grade, they "read to learn." They say that students who do not read proficiently by fourth grade will struggle to keep up.
Sample said the state is not expecting to see a large number of students held back due to the reading test.
At the Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp., administrators are counting on students coming out on top.
Carol Gardiner, an assistant superintendent with Richmond-Bean Blossom, said the district already focused on the efforts initiated by the IREAD-3 test, so she is not expecting any major surprises.
"Everything we would do for a child we would have done anyway," she said. "IREAD-3, to us, is just another data piece that the state thought we needed."
Gardiner said that decisions on whether to hold back children who do not pass the test will be made on a case-by-case basis.
The law requiring the third-grade test includes three exemptions for students who do not pass the test: students who have been retained two times; students with disabilities whose case conference committee has determined they should move on; and English learner students whose individual learning plan committee has determined they should move on.